Being laid off is something that we all fear and hope we’ll never experience (if we haven’t already). We’re working our hours as scheduled, putting in the work, and making things happen — but for some reason, layoff anxiety is always prevalent in the working world. In every job I’ve ever had, I’ve feared being laid off: It doesn’t matter that my boss has told me I’m “doing a great job” or “important to the company,” I’m still terrified — I even have nightmares about it.
However, in our careers, that severe anxiety will get us nowhere. I’ve pondered and researched miracle cures for my anxiety, especially when it comes to work, my whole life: I’ve tried everything from vitamins to affirmations in my car rearview mirror. I feel though that until we understand what the cause of our layoff anxiety is, we’ll never get better. I want to be able to confidently walk into my job one day and own it without the fear of being laid off, so I asked myself, where do I start?
But, it’s easier said than done to just get rid of layoff anxiety. So I talked to Dr. David Tzall, licensed psychologist, about overwhelming layoff anxiety: what is it, who has it, what is it good for, and, most importantly, what can someone do about it.
Layoff anxiety doesn’t target one age group.
Believe it or not, there’s no general age range that suffers the most from layoff-related anxiety — with nearly half of the U.S. workforce experiencing daily, it’s something that impacts everyone differently based on their job’s environment, past experiences, and a ton of other factors.
“Everyone is different in how they react to stress; you don’t even have to be a diagnosed anxious person to react strongly to stress,” Tzall tells Her Campus.
Additionally, Tzall tells Her Campus that younger people without a lot of job experience tend to have much less confidence in their field, and when “rumors of layoffs” come around, they panic. And, on the flip side, older folks may reflect on their past experiences (and traumas) with layoffs when rumors come about, which can cause anxiety and stress for their job security.
“When people, especially younger people, feel inexperienced, they tend to doubt themselves and their work much more than someone who has been in the business for a while,” Tzall says. “Layoff rumors may also affect older people who have been in the business for a much longer time because of stereotypes, like older workers being more ‘expensive.’”
But, layoff anxiety targets everyone — however, people with heightened anxiety may feel its effects a bit more than others. “One [anxiety-inducing instance] is an email from your boss saying ‘Can we meet?’” Tzall explains. “An anxious person’s mind goes to the negative… no one wants to be put in the spotlight.”
There are ways you can combat it.
I mentioned to Dr. Tzall that I sometimes dream of being laid off, so, of course, I asked him how to make it stop — because I’m sure it’s not a unique experience. “It is normal to dream about anxieties when your mind is not being as active, like when you’re trying to sleep or asleep,” Tzall says. ”You have to deal with stress while awake and head-on in order to stop dreaming about it.”
In order to face it “head-on,” a person concerned about being laid off can do a couple of things to alleviate their worries: give themselves an honest evaluation or talk to a manager.
Tzall says that by giving oneself an honest evaluation, you can sometimes reassure yourself that you’re safe from the chopping block. He says to ask questions like, “Are you a good worker?”, “Have you been reprimanded before?”, and “Is this really something I should fear?” Usually, these questions have you taking a deep breath and realizing you’re not a candidate worthy of being laid off.
“Anxiety happens when we don’t have a lot of information about a specific instance,” Tzall explains. “Threats scare us.” Talk to your supervisor or manager if you’re feeling concerned. We have to learn how to confront fears to help tame anxiety.
Tzall calls it a “fight or flight” against anxiety. He says, “If you are writing a paper or studying for a big test, you generally have anxiety. A ‘fight’ response would be to write a top-notch paper or study hard for the exam to alleviate anxiety. A ‘flight’ response would be to procrastinate or shut down against the fear.”
Believe it or not, you can use layoff anxiety to your advantage.
Despite it all, layoffs anxiety isn’t as detrimental as we believe. If anything, experiencing this form of anxiety can be a motivator for employees to work harder and prove their spot to higher-ups. According to Tzall, “If we don’t have any work anxiety, we’ll just kick our feet up on our desks and not do anything.” A lack of anxiety equals a lack of motivation — but too much anxiety causes us to shut down and get nothing done. Having limited, lingering anxiety is a natural thing; we don’t want to get rid of it, only manage it. Of course, if the stress is taking over your head, and harming your mental health, seek the guidance of a professional.
All in all, layoff-related anxiety is something everyone in the workforce has experienced, or will at some point in time. Everyone is susceptible to it, everyone has it, so why make it such a taboo subject? Be open with your friends, work besties, and therapists about this anxiety — chances are, they’ve felt the exact same thing. You’re not alone, here!
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.